Anatomy of a headshot: Matt Cooke's five nastiest hits [VIDEOS]
Screenshot from Youtube: Boston's Matt Savard is carted away by medical staff after a blow to the head by Matt Cooke.
It takes years to build a reputation but only seconds to self-destruct. Of the thousands of hits that Matt Cooke has delivered in his 15-year hockey career, only a handful can safely be called reckless. However, that handful has to come represent them all.
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Cooke signed this summer with the Minnesota Wild. In a profile for this week's cover, he tells us, "I made it in the league for so long because I played a certain way." Night after night, he went out looking for the biggest hit possible.
Below we've compiled five hits that overshadowed his offensive abilities and forced him to change, both on the ice and off.
"I couldn't control any of it," he says. "I needed help. I needed to find somebody to help me through it."
Anyone unfamiliar with the hatred leveled against Cooke -- not just as a player but as a person -- should probably begin with this rant by legendary hockey commentator Don Cherry.
Scott Walker -- Jan. 20, 2009
Discipline: two-game suspension
So began a series of blows, while playing for Pittsburgh, involving his opponent's head. Cooke seems surprised by how Walker approaches and gets in his face.
The refs gave him a minor penalty for interference.
Artem Anisimov -- Nov. 28, 2009
Discipline: two-game suspension
This hit went down in the same way, on nearly the same patch of ice, as the previous one. In both incidents, his opponent never saw it coming. Here, Anisimov's head and helmet fly in separate directions.
Again, Cooke was also given a minor penalty for interference.
The outcry from this hit was deafening. The league searched the rulebook and came up empty-handed. Cooke hadn't broken a rule so they wrote a new one. It explicitly prohibited lateral blindside hits to the head. Although the new rule was long overdue, it became synonymous with a single man. Fans refer informally to Rule 48 as the Cooke Rule.
Reacting to the recent news of Cooke's nomination for a good sportsmanship award, one hockey announcer couldn't help but mention this hit. He then compared Cooke to Sirhan Sirhan, Robert Kennedy's assassin.
Contrary to the vox populi, Cooke did not end Savard's career with this hit. Obviously it didn't help. But Savard came back and suffered another concussion the next season. He has been sidelined ever since.
Fedor Tyutin -- Feb. 8, 2011
Discipline: four-game suspension.
Pay special attention to how Tyutin looks behind before stopping at the boards. It's unclear whether he was looking at Cooke or his fellow teammate. Cooke swears he and Tyutin locked eyes, which in his mind was an implicit agreement that any hit to follow would be permissible.
In justifying the hit, Cooke tells us, "I was taught if someone's coming, you get them first, or get against the boards, because the board's gonna take all the momentum."
Ryan McDonagh - March 21, 2011
Disciplinary action: last 10 games of season plus first round of playoffs
After this one, Cooke took a week off to clear his head and then sat down with coaches to literally retrain his brain. They looked at stick position and how that affects a player's center of gravity against the boards. The goal was to more quickly assess whether it was worth crushing a guy into the glass.
Looking back on the McDonagh hit, Cooke claims he tried to bail out at the last second and put up his forearms to protect his own collision with the boards. He accidentally caught McDonagh on the chin, he says.
He has been 18 months clean -- that is, without a suspension.
-- Email Jesse Marx at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @marxjesse
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